I was fortunate to participate in an excellent panel at William & Mary yesterday, as part of the wonderfully massive and variegated International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies conference in Virginia. The overall theme of the conference organized by the marvelously active Cole Durham and Brett Scharffs was “Religion, Democracy, and Equality.”
Our panel, moderated by Professor Mark Movsesian, was called, “Religious Symbols, Public Reason, and the State,” and my co-panelists were Professor Perry Dane (Rutgers) and Professor Javier-Martinez Torrón (Complutense, Spain).
Perry’s talk, entitled “Endorsement, Legal Reason, and the Misguided Quest for Reasonableness,” was a penetrating and highly persuasive critique of the endorsement test. Perry sharply criticized approaches to law (not only in this context) that highlight feelings and sensibilities, and that ask judges to take on what he (channeling Philip Rieff) called “therapeutic” inquiries by reference to “reasonable” beliefs. He talked about endorsement in part in the context of the upcoming legislative prayer decision that the Court will hear in the new term. As a separationist–and, as I was very interested to learn, as Justice Brennan’s law clerk during the term that Brennan dissented in Marsh v. Chambers–Perry was skeptical that he would approve of either the reasons for changes to endorsement that the current Supreme Court might make or the new direction that it might choose (he was specifically critical of the possibility that the Court will apply an originalist methodology).
I was second and presented my co-authored paper (with Kevin Walsh), “Judging Theory.” The paper does not address law and religion head on, but it does so at an angle. The core claim of the paper is the comparative thesis that a judge’s institutional and role-based self-understanding is more important in constitutional adjudication that the collection of ideas that commonly travel under the banner “constitutional theory.” Kevin and I examine the extra-judicial (articles and books) and judicial writing (opinions) of two prominent judges–Judge Richard Posner and Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III in several controversial and hot-button contexts (Second Amendment, partial-birth abortion, and the Establishment Clause (there’s the law and religion!)) to make the claim stick.
Finally, Javier discussed religious symbols proper with a particular focus on Lautsi v. Italy. Javier argued that in the European context, where there is no mandated establishment provision that applies to all nations in the Convention on Human Rights, it is wrong to superimpose that mandate through other provisions (provisions guaranteeing equality, for example). Javier further argued–similarly to Perry–that legal claims cannot and should not consist in feelings of “difference” from the majority. As he put it, “What’s wrong with being different?”